Brendon Kay played through injuries to nearly every corner of his body and nearly took down Teddy Bridgewater Thursday night in one of the toughest performances by a quarterback you'll see.
CINCINNATI - Brendon Kay lay in the end zone. Face down on the Nippert Stadium turf. Motionless.
The medical staff rushed out to the field moments after referees signaled touchdown and 35,097 roared over the quarterback willing his team to their first lead.
By the time athletic trainers reached Kay, he popped up with assistance from teammates, grimacing, hobbled, shaken.
Figuring out which injury flared up on which play became like a game of Operation. Take your pick. Could be the shoulder he fought since the first weeks of training camp. Could be the ankle that left him limping from play to play for all 60 minutes plus overtime Thursday night. Could be his bruised ribs. Could be the back veraciously speared by 215-pound linebacker James Burgess.
Yet, here was Kay, refusing to throw a fade to the corner on third down in the second quarter of his final home game, because odds say running provides the best chance. Here was Kay -- a quarterback who practices sparingly and throws rarely except on gameday to preserve a body beaten to pulp on a weekly basis - tucking the ball under his arm.
Knowing a slide or juke won't work, Kay dives head first into traffic, exposing a body one hit from being broken in half. Without thought, without hesitation, seemingly without fear, he dives for the touchdown.
Waffle House steak is tough. Completing your MBA is tough. Calling audibles in the shadow of the sprawling, black blanket student section is tough.
Tough doesn't do this senior justice in his Keg of Nails finale. Kay was unbreakable.
"He's a battler," Tommy Tuberville said. "He's the kind you want to go to war with every week."
The final stanza inside what will be known as old Nippert stadium culminated in an effort to top most any played inside the Clifton cutout for the 100-plus years of existence.
Following every rollout, Kay could be seen limping the opposite direction, attempting to hold his team on his back with one foot. A bad ankle grew worse as the game wore on. He continued a tradition of heading to the locker room with one minute left before halftime for treatment. He'd then be the last to exit.
At some point, it looked bad enough curiosity would consider other options at quarterback. Sophomore Bennie Coney wasn't ready. Backup Jordan Luallen separated his shoulder in the second quarter and couldn't throw, according to Tuberville.
No options remained. Kay wouldn't accept others anyway.
"He wasn't about to let us take him out," Tuberville said. "He gave us the best chance."
Not this game. Not this season. Kay missed too many games during four years marred by injuries to keep him from his moment. No bad wheel, throbbing shoulder, aching back, bruised ribs, or any other ailment would take that from him.
All the Bearcats asked of Kay was to repeatedly have an answer for Teddy Bridgewater, the object of affection for nine NFL scouts lining the back row of the soon to be rubble press box and 23 other teams watching from home.
Bridgewater allowed plenty to drool over. He converted a fourth-and-12 Houdini act followed by a scramble that twisted him from east to west, ditching Bearcats then throwing across his body to land 24 yards perfectly into the arms of Damian Copeland.
If Bridgewater held Hesiman hopes, those two plays open his resume tape.
Nippert Stadium sat in stunned amazement of the Bridgewater magic, wondering if the Bearcats could recover. Then Kay hobbled to his own 27-yard line and threw the team on his back again, with one beautiful throw and one bad ankle. His strike to Mekale McKay made the scramble and sling a distant memory. Ralph David Abernathy's 15-yard TD run rendered it insignificant.
The Bridgewater magic returned a second time, but the wobbly No.11 again took the field, this time outrunning free runners for eight yards, scrambling to extend plays and completing a 10-play, 67-yard drive to force overtime.
He'd finish 22 of 40 for 304 yards with two rushing touchdowns. He even pooch punted 40 yards inside the Louisville 15. Unfortunately, victimized by drops and an untimely pass interference, Kay came up one play short in the 31-24 overtime defeat.
"That kid he did it on one leg," Tuberville said. "I mean, his ankle is so bad. He's been wanting to play and push through it. It's been that way for about six weeks. He's a warrior. He competed tonight. As all of them did."
Losing the Keg of Nails to Louisville provided a pain on par with his myriad ailments, but on this night when he stood toe to toe with a potential first-round draft pick quarter one one foot and answered every play, one of the grittiest quarterback performances in UC history deserved a better result.
"You just can't say enough about Brendon, dodging guys, running for his life, throwing sidearm, running," Tuberville said. "He's a battler. I'm proud he was my quarterback for the last nine games."
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